NATALIE BURTON OLY
The dust has settled a little as we all get used to our lives in isolation. Our morning rituals are solidified and help set us up for our day as we head into the routine we have become fairly comfortable with. We’ve put in the extra effort to connect with our friends and come up with fun ways to replicate the social interactions we miss most; hanging out online with friends on the weekends, virtual game nights, team workouts.
By now we all know what we are supposed to be doing to look after ourselves and each other. Stay home, stay connected to friends, stay active, spend time in nature when you can, don’t read too much news, have a routine.
But four weeks in and the novelty is kind of starting to wear off. Each day slowly bleeds into the next one, and I find myself forgetting what a weekend even is anymore. Yes, I could go on Zoom and talk with a friend as we sit in our own living rooms, and spend most of the chat looking at myself in my own video, fascinated by the way the camera angle makes it look like I have multiple chins instead of just the one. I could organise that team bingo night we were going to have over Zoom. But I could just as easily not bother and choose to hideaway and do my own thing.
As I contemplated this disheartening change in my attitude, I realised that the first few weeks was the easy part. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard having to scramble to adjust to the abrupt changes in our lives as we knew them. But we found our way through it, and for the most part we have comfortably settled in to our socially distant lives.
So, as we acknowledge and accept that we could be in isolation for weeks or months to come, it has become apparent that this is a marathon, not a sprint. We now face an even harder test as complacency creeps in and we let the things that we know are best for our mental and physical wellbeing start to slide. It becomes easier to not reach out to connect with our friends. It becomes easier to binge watch Netflix. And it is so much harder to find the will to make the extra effort required to do that workout.
So how do we fight this threat of complacency? How do we push through this next challenge?
This right here, right now, is when you play your resilience card. The resilience that you have practiced and honed over your professional sporting career, or the resilience learnt studying day in and day out to get that grade to get into the university you want. The resilience to do extra workouts to make that state team, the resilience to work long hours so you can provide the best service you can to your clients.
As this situation progresses and changes, we have to make sure we keep doing the things that we know will help us in the long run, even though it may seem like the hardest thing to do right now. Just like doing all your mandatory team trainings is the easy part, and doing your own extra workouts is the hard part. Just like merely going through the motions and doing the drill the coach asks you to do is the easy part, but putting that extra bit of effort in and pushing yourself to make the drill as game-like as possible is the challenge.
The thing is, it’s these extra workouts you do and that extra effort you put in during the hardest times that will have the most impact on your development. Those times when you were struggling but still kept on pushing through, they were the times you came out the other end, looked back, and realised why you had that exact experience. You see that it was indeed worth that extra effort, because you learned about yourself through the fight. Maybe you learned that you’re tough, that you don’t give up. Maybe you realised what matters to you most in your life, or you discovered what you’re willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of your goals and dreams. Heck, maybe you realised what you thought you wanted in life isn’t actually important to you anymore. Whatever you learn and however you grow along the way will make the fight worthwhile.
As my coach Rick Morcom would say, “The third quarter is the championship quarter”. The hardest part of a game isn’t the beginning or the end, it’s the grind of the third quarter. It’s when your body is starting to deeply feel the fatigue and you’re in a constant battle with your mind as it contemplates the tough half of a game still left to play. It’s no surprise then that it’s also the most important part of the game and has the most impact on the outcome.
This right here is our third quarter.
I love being part of a team sport environment. It provides you with an instant social connection to a group of people of similar age, with whom you spend countless hours together, as you all work extremely hard towards a shared goal. Immersed in this highly competitive and passionate environment you are driven to work hard and get better in order to perform for yourself, and for the greater good of your team. It makes it remarkably easier to pour so much blood, sweat, tears, time, energy and focus into your training.
So what happens when your season suddenly comes to an abrupt end, or pause, and you lose your biggest motivation to stay fit and healthy? How do you make yourself sweat now that you don’t have your teammates and coaches surrounding you and holding you accountable, encouraging you, pushing you? What exactly is the point of finishing the workout when you don’t have the dream of holding up the championship cup driving you anymore?
If you have found your motivation waning lately, whether you are an athlete or not, I have some useful ideas for you to try out.
1. Change your ‘why’
Right now, you’re being shown that you cannot solely rely on external motivation (coaches, teammates, winning). And although this period of isolation will end, the day will come when you say goodbye to your sport forever.
Emphasising your intrinsic ‘why’ for staying active is vital for your mental and physical wellbeing during this period, but even more so for life after retirement.
The most effective way to increase your internal motivation is to enjoy what you’re doing. Working out right now should be about enjoying helping your body feel good both physically and mentally, and having fun in the process.
Focus on the emotion that goes with that. I feel joy that I’ve looked after my body and got it moving early in the day. My body feels good with all those endorphins running around. I feel peace from the break I gave my mind from the stress of the outside world, and the frustrations I allowed it to work through. Keep these emotions in mind when you feel like quitting, or not even starting a workout.
2. Let’s celebrate what our amazing bodies are capable of!
Allow your body to try something new for a change rather than the same old movements it’s used to.
When I was in college, there used to be a joke about how the swimming team spent so much time in the water that when they had to run on land for conditioning, they literally looked like fish out of water as they tried to make their bodies do something they weren’t used to. The same went for us basketball players when we did the odd session in the pool; most ended up looking like drowned rats.
We become so specialised in our specific sport, which is obviously tremendously important, but we often fail to realise our bodies are able to do so much more than we think. Let your body explore and learn new ways to move and you might notice improvements when you do start your sport again. You may even find new sports or exercises to tickle your interest when it does come time to retire.
3. Give your mind a break from the constant stressing over your lack of motivation and feelings of guilt for not doing enough.
Your mental wellbeing needs to be nurtured right now.The more you obsess and feel guilt over your lack of motivation and your inability to start, or get through a workout, the more powerful the problem will become. After all, what we resist, persists. Work on noticing the thoughts that come up for you every time you think about working out or worry that you should have worked out today but you didn’t. Accept these thoughts. Don’t fight them, don’t try to resist them, and don’t punish yourself for having them. As you shift your focus, you will notice that the power these shaming thoughts have over you becomes increasingly insignificant.
Now try easing yourself into being active, because even a little is better than nothing. So, start small if you need to, maybe a 10-minute workout first, then build it up.
If you use this time now to give your mind a break, you have more chance of coming back feeling refreshed.
4. Understand the influence Decision Fatigue can have on your motivation.
When trying to come up with a workout, or wondering what to do, we often get so hung up on the decision that we decide it’s easier to just throw the towel in and not even bother. To avoid this happening, reach out to your strength and conditioning trainer or a professional in the industry for some recommended workouts. If you don’t have this, firstly contact me and I will find someone for you! But secondly, try putting together a bank of exercises that you enjoy doing (FYI, burpees would absolutely, 100%, NOT be on my list. No way. They are the worst exercises in the history of exercises. But anyway...). Use this bank as a starting point to take away the pressure of making a decision, seeing as you should at least enjoy doing them.
5. Try implementing short-term goals.
Setting some little short-term goals gives you something to aim for and allows you to create some structures and routines to help you achieve them. If you’re an athlete this can help you fill the void of the goals you just lost. Just make them realistic and achievable otherwise your motivation will quickly be back to where we started.
Some ideas to help you become more accountable:
Amidst this current sea of uncertainty, your physical activity is one thing you can actually control and use to help you create some structure in your daily life. Without structure, it is too easy to become paralysed by the fear and not adapt with the continual changes.
Whether you are an athlete or not, there is a high probability that this isolation situation is especially testing your motivation right now. But one thing is sure: keeping your body active helps your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, which is something we should all be making a priority right now.
For the athletes out there, I encourage you to think of this period as a chance to prepare for the future as you implement and test out some strategies that may help you once you retire.